Archive for February, 2014

Two Cities Forever Linked

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Swansea City play Italian giants Napoli in the second leg of the Europa Cup tomorrow (Thursday 27th February,) but the two cities have been inextricably linked for over forty years. In 1974 Local Government was re-organized in England and Wales and the City of Swansea was afforded its first Planning Department. Previously, Planning operated under the umbrella of the Borough Engineer.

The Planning Department made the most of its new found status and appointed a Director ably supported by three Assistant Directors. It was commented more than once, however, that Director Maurice Howell had more ADs than Steven Spielberg. Anyway one of the Three Amigos was Sydney Roper who was responsible for Social Polices, and he had a penchant for the dramatics. He supervised the publication of many, many Interim Planning Statements, and in one of his preambles he compared the topography of Swansea to Rome because in his biopic vision they were both built on seven hills. Furthermore through his rose tinted lenses he likened Kilvey Hill to Mount Vesuvius which overlooks the City of Naples, and compared Mumbles Bay to (wait for it) The Bay of Naples; hence the connection (QED.)

Mr. Roper’s section resembled the de-coders at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Nobody knew exactly what they were doing, but they were very effective in creating a mist over their activities. One of his senior planners brought a red setter to work and her assistant’s job was to exercise the dog daily and give it food and water when necessary. Luckily for the assistant the beach and promenade were only a stone’s throw from the office, and he and the dog regularly availed themselves of the bracing sea air.

Where was I? Yes, I’m a Swansea Jack and I love the City. Not wishing to denigrate Kilvey Hill, but it has more of the trappings of a slag heap than a picturesque image of a mountain which is arguably the most famous volcano in the world. Don’t get me wrong. Kilvey dominates the East Side of the City and has a charm and character peculiar to its dockland setting. It’s favored by car thieves who regularly dump their booty of BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and possibly in the future Chico Flores’ Ferrari on the hilltop. A point of Clarification; it’s most definitely a hill and not a mountain. For further explanation on the difference between the two when you have nothing better to do, look up the movie starring Hugh Grant: “The Englishman Who went up a Hill and came down a Mountain.”

Now Mumbles Bay is a different kettle of fish given the right circumstances. It’s a beautiful and majestic Bay that curves around the coast for five miles from Swansea to Mumbles. Unfortunately Swansea is very tidal, and when the tide is out the Bay resembles a setting for the mud laden Battle of the Somme. Luckily when its high tide on a warm summer’s evening and the sun is setting over Mumbles lighthouse, the setting is magical and there’s none better.

But didn’t somebody tell Sydney the color of the water in the Bay of Naples was aqua blue compared to the shades of grey in Mumbles Bay? Hmm, shades of grey could be a good title for a book in the future.

Hopefully the small band of Swans supporters attending the away leg in Naples can cast a myopic eye over the Bay of Naples and visualize their beloved Mumbles Bay and pretend for a few hours that they never left home.  A few glasses of the local grog and vino could greatly enhance their imagination.

The Difference Makers

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

There’s no such thing as a one man team in football. It’s a team game and a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. However a great player can transform a good team into a very good team and maybe a great one. Napoli and Argentina are cases in point when they both enjoyed the services of Maradona. Equally Pele and Cruyff made their very good national teams great. De Stefano was the principle reason for Real Madrid winning five successive European Cups. You could call the aforementioned players the icing on the cake, but I prefer to view them as difference makers.

Currently we are enjoying probably the best season in the Premiership where four teams are in contention for the Title: Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City and Liverpool. Theoretically Everton and Spurs could be included in the mix, but with only twelve games remaining it’s unlikely that either team could overtake the teams filling the top four places.

So everyone is expecting a tight and exciting finish to the season, and it’s a situation in which a player could make a significant difference between success and failure. Ironically Spurs were fortunate to have Gareth Bale as a difference maker last season, and when they reluctantly sold him to Real Madrid in the summer, they signed six new players to fill the void. Introducing so many new players into a team creates its own issues and Spurs have done reasonably well to be in the top six.

When you examine the squads available to the top four teams there are three players who could be labeled as difference makers. Ya Ya Toure of Man City falls into this category. It’s an old cliché, but when Toure plays well Man City invariably win. Toure is an attacking midfielder and is constantly in the middle of the action providing assists and goals. However, he can unaccountably drift out of games and that is when Man City are vulnerable.

yaya toure                          luis Suarez

Suarez of Liverpool is a brilliant player who thrives on being unorthodox and is a prolific goal scorer. Liverpool’s critics argued that the team was too reliant on Suarez’s goal scoring abilities, but they have scored 8 goals in their previous two games and Suarez has not featured on the score sheet. Nevertheless Suarez has also shown that he can be a team player by willing to play out of position.

Eden Hazard is only 23 years old, but is in sparkling form for Chelsea. He provides ingenuity as an attacking midfield player while scoring important goals for his team. The forthcoming World Cup could be the platform for Hazard to show the world that he is truly a world class player when he competes for Belgium. By the process of elimination that leaves Arsenal without a difference maker.

eden hazard

Arsenal were going along like a steam roller when Aaron Ramsey was pulling the strings in midfield and scoring a hatful of goals. But since his injury they have struggled, and a recent 1-5 mauling at the hands of Liverpool did little for their confidence. In the summer they paid 42 million pounds for the German midfielder Ozil, and naturally big things were expected from him. Realistically Arsenal were a little naïve if they expected him to be anything more than a very good support player which is a role he performs admirably for Germany.

Difference makers can’t win a title on their own when parts of the sum are not good enough. Man United is a case in point. New Manager David Moyes is receiving a lot of criticism for the team’s mediocre displays, but he inherited an aging team well past their “sell by” date who arguably won the title last season on reputation alone. Admittedly they have two difference makers in Rooney and Van Persie, but neither is currently firing on all cylinders

The $64,000 dollar question remains on who is going to win the much coveted Premiership. While eliminating Arsenal for the reasons outlined above, the remaining three teams all have flaws which could prove to be their downfall. Liverpool have a definite weakness in central defense. The longer they persevere with Koala Toure the lesser chance they have of winning the title. Chelsea need John Terry for his leadership and steadying influence and should wrap him in cotton wool between matches. Man City have too many players who have a tendency to “switch off” in matches for no accountable reason.

In picking a winner, the team which overcomes its flaws and has a difference maker who makes a play at the crucial time will win the Premiership. I really don’t have a clue who that will be, but it will be exciting to watch them coming down the home straight.